The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning can advance to the Central Division finals on Monday night with a victory at the Florida Panthers in Game 5 of their Stanley Cup playoff series. The Lightning are -120 road favorites on the William Hill Sportsbook odds and will have star forward Nikita Kucherov available after he was injured in Game 4. Meanwhile, the Panthers are making an interesting choice by reportedly starting rookie Spencer Knight in net with their season on the line.
Kucherov, the 2018-19 Hart Trophy winner, didn't play at all this regular season off hip surgery but has been fantastic in the playoffs with nine points, tied for the most in the league with Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon. In Saturday's 6-2 home win, Kucherov was the No. 1 star with a goal and three assists before leaving with a lower-body injury.
He became the first player in Lightning history to have at least four points in a playoff game three times. Brayden Point (twice career) is the only other player to do so on multiple occasions. Saturday was also Kucherov's sixth career playoff game with at least three assists – the most among active players. The Russian has a long way to go to catch the all-time record-holder, though, which of course is Wayne Gretzky with a whopping 28 such games.
There have been 32 goals scored in this series through four games, with Tampa Bay outscoring Florida 19-13. Only five other series in the last 25 years have featured two teams combine for as many goals through the first four games.
Thus, maybe the Panthers have nothing to lose going with Knight over Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger. As of this writing, Florida coach Joel Quenneville hasn't named his starter in net, but Knight was the first goalie off the ice at the Monday morning shootaround and that usually means the starter (he also was the primary goaltender during Sunday's practice). The Panthers have spent the first four games alternating back and forth between Bobrovsky and Driedger.
Knight, a 2019 first-round pick who just turned 20, appeared in four games at the end of the regular season with a 4-0 record and a .919 save percentage. In January, Knight shut out Canada to lead the United States to a gold medal at the 2021 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.
Quenneville added there would be another lineup move and that likely will be Keith Yandle back in the lineup after being scratched the past two games. This writer is backing the Lightning to finish things off.
Looking for the best picks against the spread, sharp action on the total and props you can take to the window? Join Jonathan Coachman on the Early Edge as he speaks with SportsLine's top handicappers to preview every day's biggest games. We promise to keep it short, sweet and to put some green in your pocket. Early Edge is under 10 minutes and in your feed every single day by 11 AM ET. Download right here or wherever you get your podcasts.